At the base of all power is knowledge. Many gods know this, and such embrace the search for knowledge and imbue their mortal followers with it. The Knowledge subclass is the first domain listed in the Player’s Handbook for Clerics. It focuses on information and utility, rather than raw combat power. While not as brawny as the Forge cleric, or as efficient as the Death domain, Knowledge is a powerhouse archetype with a myriad of tools. So let’s crack open a book and unearth some ancient strength with our Knowledge Cleric 5E Guide.
Read the Scrolls: Knowledge Cleric 5E
Like quite a few domains, the Knowledge Cleric uses versatility and information to increase the Cleric’s usefulness. However, no domain goes quite as far as the Knowledge one towards this goal. Every single aspect of the Knowledge Cleric is for accumulating information, and it does it well. This does mean preparation is key, as it tends to be in 5th edition. Use this domain well, and the planning phase of any expedition becomes massively easier.
A few information spells are arcane-only, so this spell list has a lot of out-of-class power. Other than raw information, the Knowledge cleric’s ability to influence enemies increases by a bit.
The primary usage of these domains are, as has been said, information. Identify, Augury, Speak with Dead, Arcane Eye, Legend Lore, and Scrying fall into this category. Most of these require an item or a person to already be in mind in order for information to be acquired. Plan around spells like Scrying and Legend Lore, since they have immense power, if your mind is in the right place. Be prepared to use spell slots on other, more reactive spells, rather than these.
Nondetection is kinda between information and crowd control, being an anti-information spell. This isn’t super useful for anything other than specific boss encounters that use Scrying. For intrigue scenarios, this spell can be quite awesome, preventing mages from finding your party. Otherwise, don’t be too paranoid.
The other part of the domain list involves messing with your enemies; Command, Suggestion, and Confusion. These all influence what actions your enemy can use; Command and Suggestion take control completely, while Confusion just makes sure enemies don’t do what they want. These are better to use in combat than information spells.
How prepared you want to be for fights determines what aspect of your domain will be more useful. Either you can hold all the cards, or you can make your enemies drop them all over the floor.
Blessings of Knowledge
The first ability that the cleric gets is just oozing with flavor, but is actually quite potent.
At 1st level, you learn two languages of your choice. You also become proficient in your choice of two of the following skills: Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion.
Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of those skills.
The languages don’t matter too much, really. Once you reach 3rd level spells, you gain access to the spell Tongues, which lasts long enough to negate this ability’s benefit. Early on, this will be nice. For example, an Elf can learn Dwarven and Gnomish, which might make talking to those races easier. When taking this ability, talk to your GM about what languages are prevalent in the area before choosing your two.
The bonus proficiencies are spicier. Clerics, as a class, gain 2 skill proficiencies, which limits the amount of Knowledge you are able to dish out. Now, you get to double the amount of proficiencies you would normally have. That’s pretty significant, since it lets you more readily fill the role of Knowledge expert. It’s not quite perfect; dedicating all of your proficiencies to Knowledge skills means you won’t be as persuasive, but it makes sense considering your domain. And backgrounds can help find other, more essential skills.
But that’s not all. Normally, the Cleric doesn’t have enough stat points to get their Intelligence high. That usually means they can’t get their knowledge skills to good levels. But, this subclass doubles proficiency for two of them. That’s huge, and means that the Cleric can land some difficult, late-game DCs without needing high Intelligence.
If we had to suggest two, we’d go for Arcana and Religion. Those are the most typically used checks, with Arcana being far, far more likely. History is (sadly) more of a background skill; not really as important, but could be useful for intrigue-focused campaigns. Nature and Religion kinda swap a bit, based on campaign, but you’re more likely to fight demons than dogs– no offense to Hellhounds – once you reach the late CRs. Once again, talk to your GM about potential plans for the campaign.
Channel Divinity: Knowledge of the Ages
Channel divinity is an important ability, and the level 2 option often makes or breaks a domain. The Knowledge domain…
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to tap into a divine well of knowledge. As an action, you choose one skill or tool. For 10 minutes, you have proficiency with the chosen skill or tool.
Nice and basic. It’s an out-of-combat option for your Channel Divinity that lets you become proficient with something that’s needed. This is pretty dang flexible, even if it doesn’t do damage. Is that cliff looking high? Tap into the Athletic side of your gods. Maybe you need to be a bit more sociable? Get Persuasion for 10 minutes. There are a ton of options for this, negating the fact that it’s not exactly combat-viable.
You do need an action to do so, requiring some smart preparation. Also, this might be obvious, but choose tool proficiency only if you have the tool with you. It might not be very useful otherwise.
Channel Divinity: Read Thoughts
Another Channel Divinity option at level 6? Usually, I’m not a huge fan, but this one is an exception.
At 6th level, you can use your Channel Divinity to read a creature’s thoughts. You can then use your access to the creature’s mind to command it.
As an action, choose one creature that you can see within 60 feet of you. That creature must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature succeeds on the saving throw, you can’t use this feature on it again until you finish a long rest.
If the creature fails its save, you can read its surface thoughts (those foremost in its mind, reflecting its current emotions and what it is actively thinking about) when it is within 60 feet of you. This effect lasts for 1 minute.
During that time, you can use your action to end this effect and cast the suggestion spell on the creature without expending a spell slot. The target automatically fails its saving throw against the spell.
The cool-factor of this ability knows no bounds!
Starting off, you essentially get Detect Thoughts that only targets one creature. That’s not exactly impressive, since it is a little bit worse than the spell. However, you can now read the surface-level thoughts of something with an Intelligence lower than 3. That’s hilarious, and can be useful if an undead minion knows about its master. Your GM may disagree with this interpretation, so ask them before using this. I personally think that, since it mentions Intelligence in Detect Thoughts, but not here, that this absolutely lets you read the thoughts of bugs and rats.
The extra range is another benefit over Detect Thoughts, though it doesn’t seem like you can penetrate walls with this. At least, on initial cast. Use this quickly at the start of an encounter, and then it seems like you always can find them, as long as they’re within 60 ft. Keeping priority targets in check is quite strong.
And that’s not even mentioning the free Suggestion spell tacked on. Suggestion is rarely powerful during combat, but with clever wording, it can become fierce. Demanding that a warlord retreats to the stables is a relatively reasonable request that can save your party’s life. Planning is key here; if your allies harm the Suggested target, the Suggestion ends. Use this spell to stop a fight with a relatively strong enemy, or to thin the crowd of an enemy with low Wisdom. This effect takes a minimum of two turns to kick in, though, and Suggestion is a Concentration spell.
Out of combat, Suggestion becomes immensely strong. You can prevent poisonings without becoming suspicious, alert guards without saying anything, stop a carriage for up to 8 hours, and more. It is one of the most versatile spells in the entire game, and this comes with Detect Thoughts. Using your Divinity for two 2nd-level spells is quite nice.
Unfortunately, it’s clunky and a bit difficult to use in combat. And, unlike other domains, this ability means you don’t get access to more permanent buffs. Channel Divinity is critical for this subclass, so use it whenever you can!
What’s the damage increase, for a subclass with booksmarts?
Starting at 8th level, you add your Wisdom modifier to the damage you deal with any cleric cantrip.
There are currently three damaging Cleric cantrips; Hand of Radiance, Sacred Flame, and Toll the Dead. The former is a melee range Area of Effect that deals d6s. The latter two have 60 ft range, deal d8s, and have some other benefit – Sacred Flame is more accurate and ignores Cover, Toll the Dead deals more to damaged targets. These are all of your options for cantrips to increase damage.
Toll the Dead is a really strong cantrip that can deal up to 4d12 damage at highest levels. That’s good for a ranged build. And Hand of Radiance can hit more than one enemy, so adding Wisdom to that Area of Effect damage is solid.
In either build, you no longer have any reason to use a Strength or Dexterity based weapon. Cantrips now outscale them no matter what, really.
Visions of the Past
Oh boy, get your reading glasses on…
Starting at 17th level, you can call up visions of the past that relate to an object you hold or your immediate surroundings. You spend at least 1 minute in meditation and prayer, then receive dreamlike, shadowy glimpses of recent events. You can meditate in this way for a number of minutes equal to your Wisdom score and must maintain concentration during that time, as if you were casting a spell.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Object Reading. Holding an object as you meditate, you can see visions of the object’s previous owner. After meditating for 1 minute, you learn how the owner acquired and lost the object, as well as the most recent significant event involving the object and that owner. If the object was owned by another creature in the recent past (within a number of days equal to your Wisdom score), you can spend 1 additional minute for each owner to learn the same information about that creature.
Area Reading. As you meditate, you see visions of recent events in your immediate vicinity (a room, street, tunnel, clearing, or the like, up to a 50-foot cube), going back a number of days equal to your Wisdom score. For each minute you meditate, you learn about one significant event, beginning with the most recent. Significant events typically involve powerful emotions, such as battles and betrayals, marriages and murders, births and funerals. However, they might also include more mundane events that are nevertheless important in your current situation.
Did you catch that? “Reading” glasses? For Object and Area Reading? Ha!
By this point in most campaigns, your Wisdom Score is hopefully 20. That means you get about 20 minutes of meditation. To start off, this is obviously not a combat ability. You are using this before or after a combat situation to get as much information as you can.
Object Reading is the more specific of the two. That doesn’t have a day limit, as it only cares about days if there’s anything concerning change of ownership. This is useful for learning about artifacts, history, truth surrounding history, and subterfuge. Consider using this on things like a Cultist’s knife to find out where the cult is located. Really think about what constitutes an “object” in this case; some GMs may consider the chipped horn of a Demon to be an object, or a spell rune.
Area Reading is less specific, but potentially more useful. 20 days isn’t much time in reality, but for most D&D characters that’s enough time for problems to appear. This blows a lot of “murder mysteries” wide open, since you can just kinda… See what happened. Just through meditation. It can also be useful for finding secret hideouts without using spell slots, or if the hideouts are hidden using Nondetection. A 50 ft cube is quite specific, though, so get some information first!
Best Race for Knowledge Clerics
The Knowledge Cleric, thanks to abilities like Potent Spellcasting and Visions of the Past, really likes Wisdom. Being wise is an essential part of the subclass, so races that naturally have Wisdom bonuses are favored.
Perhaps the best option for a knowledge cleric is the Elf. With great movement speed, high dexterity, and a boost to wisdom, Wood Elves can move fast and sustain high AC in the early game. A really compelling option for a basic cleric.
A member of the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, these creatures have good dexterity and some excellent movement options. You also get to squawk information to your party from above, which is always fun. Ask your GM before taking this race, since flight is pretty insane, especially early on.
Race Notes: Knowledge is for Everyone
Thanks to Backgrounds, getting skills is not really important for the Knowledge cleric. Keep your Intelligence at a good point, and the Knowledge Cleric seemingly builds itself. Because Knowledge Clerics are fans of every single attribute, any race can be useful, from Dwarfs to Bugbears to Aasimar. Just make sure your Wisdom is high enough, and watch your domain give your party the info they need.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Knowledge Cleric 5E
The Knowledge domain is a unique one, focusing mostly on gathering information, rather than making itself useful in a fight. Preparation is key to taking full advantage of this potentially powerful subclass, but it can still do great things. Your GM is really important for evaluating how strong this Domain can be, so keep that in mind when designing your smarty-pants Cleric.
Want to see your other Cleric options or how to optimize your character in general? Check out our Comprehensive Cleric 5E Guide!